Disclaimer: I feel very passionate about being 100% real and honest on my blog. That means I will sometimes be sharing personal experiences that might be a trigger for some of you reading it. Please be aware of that before reading the below post (and any posts on my blog).
Often when I’m in the middle of a panic attack, my husband will try to fix the problem or ask me what is wrong or where it started.
While I’m sitting, huddled on the couch with tears pouring out of my eyes and my chest so tight I can’t breath..I don’t fucking care where the feelings are coming from, I just want them to go away and never return. So I yell and I fight and I tell him I don’t care and to just fix it and make it better and and and…
After the attacks, when I’m calm and rational, I know deep down that it really does matter where the panic stemmed from. Sure, I can take a Xanax or I can distract myself and get rid of the panic attack but that’s just treating the symptom not the cause.
It’s like if you have a headache and so you take some aspirin but later find out you have a brain tumor and just continue to take aspirin for your headache. That aspirin won’t do shit to make the tumor go away, and you’ll continue to suffer.
With your mental illness, with my anxiety…I need to find the trigger, I need to find the cause of the panic attack and treat that, figure it out, solve it, determine out why it’s bothering me. If I just keep treating the symptom (the panic attack) I’ll never actually heal the cause (the trigger) and then I will never properly be in recovery and I’ll continue to question why my efforts to wellness aren’t working.
I’m no expert and this is something I’m still working on, and sometimes failing terribly, but here is what I suggest when trying to find your triggers. This works not just for panic attacks/anxiety disorders but any mental illness. We all have triggers and we all have symptoms they bring up.
How to Find Your Trigger:
Start at the end and work backwards if you need to, or take a moment and think about what was happening when the panic (or other symptom began). Here are two real examples of my own triggers.
-I spilled juice -> Anger at our small living space -> There’s no way out of this situation -> Living with depression, anxiety and constant anger are not healthy but I have no idea how to fix the situation without outside help (job, money, the room).
You can see in the above example that I started with the event and wrote down the feelings that came up when it happened and then the thoughts that spiraled out of control from that point.
The event was small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things but it brought up the first bout of anger at living in only 1 room with 3 people, and then my thoughts started racing and I tracked my train of thought.
First write down what your initial feeling was and then record how your thoughts and feelings spiraled out of control from there. Do not try to avoid situations or try to do anything differently while you are recording your triggers. Be honest and follow your normal routine.
Here is an example of how the trigger really made my thoughts and anxiety spiral out of control:
-Jeffrey mostly only naps while being held -> Thought about laying him down to see if he would stay asleep so Scott and I would have time together -> Got anxious thinking Jeffrey will wake up, be fussy etc and that Scott and I don’t get enough time together -> Mad at myself for being sad that Jeffrey takes Scott’s attention away -> I was used to his attention 24 /7 before and now rarely get it. -> I’m too needy and selfish.
My anxiety here really stemmed from feeling needy and selfish and like a bad mother all at once. It was triggered from something seemingly small but when I thought about it in a negative sense, it just made my panic heighten.
So what should you do after you figure out what is causing your panic (or other negative symptoms)?
Once you know what is causing your symptom, you can work on changing how you react.
In my first example above, instead of reacting with anger to living in a small space, I should have reacted with determined to get ourselves out of the situation. And eventually I did, and we worked hard to create our own space and our living space is no longer a trigger for me at all.
In my second example, instead of feeling like a bad mother because my son only could nap when being held and feeling like I was ruining him for life, I should have reacted with the thought that I was doing the best I could as a mother and that it would all work out. Now, my son still needs to be held to fall asleep and while I wish he was a bit more independent, I can look back and realize that it was the only way we could approach the matter when he was little. We did the best we could as parents and his sleep is no longer a trigger for me (except when he’s fussy and refuses! but that’s a different story.)
It can be hard to be honest with yourself and find your triggers and there are times even now, that I feel depressed or have a panic attack and I just can’t figure out where it came from. But when I can manage to figure it out, I know that the next time how to work on my reaction to the trigger so that eventually, it won’t be a trigger and won’t cause a panic attack anymore.
Share: What are your personal triggers? How do you work on changing your reactions?